Although I love cameras, at times to the point of obsession, I've always had an ambivalent attitude towards collectibles. Leica at one point in its spotty history seemed to be keeping itself afloat with a variety of special edition M6's. There was, for example, the Platinum Anton Bruckner Edition, because who doesn't associate tough little rangefinders with 19th-century Romantic composers with arrested-adolescent problems?—and who doesn't associate Anton Bruckner with powder-blue lizard skin?—and the China-only, gold-plated, $29,300 special edition commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Peoples Republic of China, which had "Long Live the People’s Republic of China" engraved on the top plate in what one website described as "Mao-style calligraphy." (The Anton Bruckner edition had a small portrait of Bruckner engraved on its top plate, and Blackletter-style, um, "calligraphy.") Nothing says 60 years of communism like a $29,000 camera! The admittedly awesome 1997 Green Bay Packers commemorative (warning: shield your eyes as you open that link) somehow failed to find buyers, and most ended up being destroyed. Apparently one is able to keep one's head if it is made of cheese*.
Of course I have to admit there were some very sensible special editions. The black-paint Leica Historical Society of America (LSHA) M6 was wonderful, and actually made sense—the LHSA is, after all, a society of Leica enthusiasts.
Strangely, something in the vicinity of 1,500 of each of the uncommissioned special editions were made, which was a very fortunate coincidence in that there were known to be about 1,500 deep-pocketed "completist" Leica collectors worldwide. It was really lucky how that happened to work out.
Leica is far from the only culprit when it comes to collectibles. Doesn't this thing just make you want to take it out and beat the crap out of it?
That's not the weirdest gold Pentax, even. There was a gold K1000, which, given that the K1000 was a basic, cheap student workhorse, was a bit conflicted conceptually.
I think I did hear of one intelligent application of a special edition once: it was a portrait photographer who allegedly used a Rollei Aurum because it helped make him memorable to his clients—he used it as a conversation piece and sort of a signature. Hey, whatever works.
(The Rollei Aurum was issued in an edition of 1,500. Hmm.)
I have to wonder about the fate of the collectible in the digital era. Right now you can get a Hasselblad Stellar for a whopping $2,300 off, which has to qualify as the best savings of the season—although it bends my mind, because why would anyone want to save $2,300 on a camera that was originally marked up by about the same amount in order to make it into a status object? And what does the sale price do to the peace of mind of the 17 guys who bought one at full price? Lastly, how can one be sanguine about acquiring digital collectibles if the value is just going to drop off them like scales off your eyes?
Then again, it is just a Sony RX100 (not the II or III). Maybe the people picking them up on sale are Sony collectors.
I'm sure there are people out there collecting digital cameras. But probably not 1,500 of them. Digital cameras don't age well. They break, and become outmoded and unsupported. And let's face facts—since cameras became computers, it just hasn't been as much fun to tart them up in gold plating and lizard skin and name them for the King of Thailand. They're electronic devices, and electronic devices just don't age as well as mechanical ones. Of course, collectors never use their cameras anyway, but it comforts them to know they could if they wanted to**.
If you have the collector bug, I suggest book collecting***. Books are the perfect collectible, with a vast history as such and endless possibilities for personal customization of your principles of collection. And as long as you can see to read and you manage to keep it in decent shape, the technology of a book will never let you down.
*For those of you not from here, Packer fans and by extension people from Wisconsin are sometimes very admiringly called "cheeseheads" by envious people whose football teams are not as covered with glory and/or cheddar.
**Saying that reminds me of someone who did, and of one of the most delightful camera books ever: Ivor Matanle's Collecting and Using Classic Cameras. Anyone who likes cameras might enjoy spending some time in Ivor's good company.
***Speaking of being conflicted conceptually...Basbanes' A Gentle Madness for the Kindle is right up there! A great book on the subject, though, and a fun read if you're a book lover.
"Open Mike" is the editorial page of TOP, meaning, regular plain old TOP posts but gussied up with gold plating and lizard skin. Yr. Hmbl. Ed. has a small but well-loved collection of photography books, and no gold cameras.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Robert Hudyma: "You missed the 'Hello Kitty' Leica M6; it never came to North America. Do you think that Oskar Barnack would have produced this model?"
Mike replies: Just so everyone knows, the Hello Kitty M6, like the Packers M6, is a spoof (pre-existing, though—I had nothing to do with either.)
Ben Rosengart: "I have a counterexample to your last sentence. My copy of Alberto Schommer's delightful Flamenco photobook is coming apart at the binding. I bought it new and have taken good care of it, so I can only conclude that it was badly manufactured."
The Lazy Aussie: "Mao had very striking calligraphy. Spiky and bold. You can see many examples adorning university entrances and suchlike in China. It's a style I would very much like to be able to emulate."